Most people find out about virtual private networks (VPNs) in their pursuit of better security online – it’s their most notable benefit, after all. But like any service, VPNs come in lots of different shapes and sizes, with some offering more than others.
For that reason, we’re going to talk you through some of the most important features to look out for when choosing a VPN so that you know how to separate the wheat from the chaff and get the most out of your network security.
What is a VPN?
A VPN service allows you to connect to the internet by routing your connection through a server on an independent network rather than through your ISP (Internet Service Provider), concealing your IP address. VPN software also encrypts your data to ensure your information gets from A to B without being intercepted or stolen.
A protocol is the techie term for a specific encryption strategy and is usually represented by an acronym – PPTP, L2TP, and IPsec are just a few. Don’t be discouraged by the assortment of seemingly random digits and letters though, because protocols are actually far more straightforward than you might think.
Protocols offer different levels of encryption, and though encrypting your data protects you from disclosing personal information to cyber criminals and ISPs (internet service providers), it requires a lot of processing power and can therefore slow your connection down. This is why it makes sense to find a VPN that offers a variety of protocols, so you can switch between high- and low-level encryptors to optimize your connection speed for different activities.
If, for example, you’re doing something that’s data-intensive but doesn’t pose a serious risk to your data, like streaming on Netflix or VoIP calling friends and family, you might want to use a protocol like PPTP for a smoother, more stable connection.
Conversely, if you’re doing something online that requires more security, such as banking or shopping, it’s always prudent to use a protocol like OpenVPN, which is slower but more secure.
Versatility in your VPN client is always important, so finding a service with a wide range of server locations is crucial.
Virtual private networks host hundreds, sometimes thousands of servers around the world, and subscribing to a service only to find out it doesn’t have a server in the location you need can be heartbreaking, not to mention costly and time-consuming.
Therefore, if your goal is to watch US Netflix or stay in touch with friends in China, make sure your VPN hosts servers in those regions. You’ll kick yourself if you go through the rigmarole of subscribing to VPN if it does not meet your needs.
A mobile VPN
Modern life is so intertwined with technology that many of us wouldn’t last a day without our phones. It makes sense then to make sure that your VPN offers a mobile-friendly version so that you can protect your data on the go.
Mobiles are typically the most vulnerable devices we use, because, unlike our other devices, we tend to shift from one endpoint to another. And this constant connecting and reconnecting to different networks can present hackers with countless opportunities to intercept your data.
A common example of hackers taking advantage of this habit is spoofing scams. Hotspot spoofing is a tactic employed by cybercriminals to lure you onto an unsecured network so that they can eavesdrop on your browsing session in order to steal your passwords and credit card details.
A VPN service that operates on multiple devices is, therefore, a great choice if you don’t want to be the victim of a spoof attack, and means you can protect yourself at home, in the office and even in your local coffee shop.
A killer kill switch
Last but not least is the kill switch, a handy tool that can save you from exposing your personal information when your VPN connection goes down.
If you’ve used a VPN before, you’ll know how easy it can be for your network connection to fail without you noticing. The danger here is that you’ll start to shop or bank online when your VPN connection drops, exposing your real IP address and jeopardizing your security and anonymity.
A kill switch works by immediately severing your internet connection if your VPN happens to go down, preventing you from sending any sensitive data across an unsecured network.
As you can see, versatility is important to look for in a VPN. Whether it’s a variety of protocols and server locations, or a range of safeguards like kill switches and automated security settings, a provider that offers more in the way of versatility will enable you to tailor your network to your online activity, and make surfing the web on all your devices as simple and secure as possible.